Xin Wen

Director of Undergraduate Studies in East Asian Studies
Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies and History
Office Phone
237 Frist Campus Center
Office Hours
Tuesday: 3:00 pm-5:00 pm

Xin Wen (Ch. 文欣) is a historian of medieval China and Inner Asia. He received his BA from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), MA in Pre-modern Chinese history (focusing on the Tang dynasty) from Peking University, and MA in Regional Studies, East Asia and PhD in Inner Asian and Altaic Studies, both from Harvard University. He joined the Department of East Asian Studies and the Department of History at Princeton University in Fall 2017.

His first book, The King’s Road: Diplomacy and the Remaking of the Silk Road (Princeton University Press, Jan 2023) proposes a new interpretation of the history of the Silk Road as a diplomatic, rather than commercial, network. Using multilingual documents from the famous Dunhuang “library cave,” the book traces the arduous and often mortal journeys of diplomatic envoys through a complex web of geographic, cultural, and linguistic boundaries between China and Central Asia. It also asks what motivated the kings to send these envoys, and assesses the economic, cultural, and political impacts these long-distance journeys had. In this way, this book paints a detailed and previously unknown picture of the intricate diplomatic network of trans-Eurasian transportation and communication on the Silk Road.

He is currently working on his second book, tentatively titled Chang’an: The Death and Rebirth of China’s Eternal Capital, 900–1400. The city of Chang’an was the capital of two most enduring imperial dynasties in China, the Western Han (202BCE–8CE) and the Tang (618–907). Its history as the imperial capital is well-documented and thoroughly-researched. This book, however, seeks to describe the urban and cultural changes in the city of Chang’an during the five centuries after the fall of the Tang, when Chang’an lost the status of an imperial capital and underwent an uncomfortable transition into a provincial city. The story of this transition, I argue, has much to teach us not just about the city itself, but also about the broader Chinese views on its past. The research for this book is funded by a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Society. Based on my preliminary findings, I have given a number of lectures about this project: "Curating a Museum of Stones: The 'Forest of Stelae' (Beilin) Collection and the Politics of the Past in Middle Period China" and "Capital of the Past: Urban and Cultural Transformations of Chang'an, 900–1400."

Along with Brian Lander (Brown) and Ling Wenchao (Beijing Normal University), he is working on a study and a select translation of a massive cache of more than 120,000 third-century Chinese documents from Zoumalou in Changsha, Hunan Province in South China, which will be published at Brill.

In addition to the book projects, Wen has published peer-reviewed articles in T’oung Pao, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (forthcoming 2023), Journal of Chinese History, Central Asiatic Journal, T’ang Studies, Metropolitan Museum Journal, and Journal of Silk Road Art and Archaeology. His Chinese articles appeared in leading journals such as Lishi yanjiu 歷史研究 [Historical Research], Beijing daxue xuebao 北京大學學報 [Journal of Peking University], Dunhuang tunlufan yanjiu 敦煌吐魯番研究 [Dunhuang and Turfan Studies], Xiyu yuyan lishi yanjiu jikan 西域語言歷史研究輯刊 [Journal of the Language and History of the Western Regions/Central Asia], and Xiyu wenshi 西域文史 [Literature and History of the Western Regions/Central Asia].


Area of Interest
(In alphabetical order)
Book History
Cultural History
Digital History
Economic History
Political History
Race & Ethnicity
Social History
Urban History
Home Department & Other Affiliations
East Asian Studies
Late Antiquity
6th through 14th Centuries